Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter at @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was:

  • Spartan Success: Despite losing guys like Korie Lucious, Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe, the Michigan State express rolled on. Perhaps no other coach in the country teaches a system and its principles quite like Tom Izzo. Surprise losses on Sunday by both Ohio State and Michigan, however, meant that MSU’s weekend destruction of Nebraska clinched them of the at least a share of the Big Ten title. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • Chicago (Evanston) Hope: That wind you felt coming from Chicago might have been a collective sigh of relief from Northwestern fans after senior leader John Shurna sank two free throws with mere seconds to play to help the Wildcats escape Happy Valley with a 67-66 win. Two straight gut-wrenching losses in one week might have been more than Northwestern could have overcome as they sweat out life on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
  • Lousy in Lincoln: It’s no secret that Nebraska has struggled on offense this year. But not since 1961 has Nebraska been so putrid on offense as they were when they were embarrassed by Michigan State, 61-34, at home over the weekend. The Huskers shot under 30% for the game and the loss of leading scorer Bo Spencer to an injured ankle near halftime only hampered their scoring efforts.

The Perennial Lesson In College Basketball 101 Is To Never Count Out The Michigan State Spartans.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) – As good as Michigan State has been this season, how would the Spartans be if Delvon Roe hadn’t been forced to drop basketball due to chronic knee problems? Roe’s presence would have given them more depth and would have taken the load off of Draymond Green at certain points. But it also forced youngsters like Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne to grow up quickly. While they’ve struggled with consistency, those guys are a big part of why the Spartans are Big Ten champs.
  2. Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) – Strange times in Columbus. After riding a 39-game winning streak and destroying most visitors who dared enter Value City Arena, the Buckeyes have now lost two of their last three games at home. Jared Sullinger has seemingly disappeared in big games and crucial moments this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 27th, 2012

  1. To win on the road in the Big Ten, someone is going to have to give a special performance. That’s exactly what Purdue got from sophomore Terone Johnson as the Boilermakers handed Michigan their first home loss of the season.  Johnson dropped a career-high 22 points on the Wolverines, and was supported by Robbie Hummel and his 17 points.  The Boilermakers have now won four out of their last five, and at 19-10, have probably wrapped up their case for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Michigan State hit plenty of milestones in its win Saturday over Nebraska.  The Spartans are now guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten crown after Michigan and Ohio State’s losses.  Draymond Green also became only the third player in MSU history to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds, joining Jumping Johnny Green and Greg Kelser.  Besides those accomplishments, the Spartan defense was the star of the game as it held the Cornhuskers to only 34 total points.  It was the fewest amount a Tom Izzo team had allowed since a win over Brown in 2006-07.
  3. Once again it is Bubble Watch time in Evanston, and Northwestern had its fans biting their nails in a 67-66 win over Penn State.  John Shurna was sent to the line, and calmly knocked down two free throws to give the Wildcats an enormous win in that a loss could have been a death blow to their tournament chances.  Now Northwestern embarks on a tough two-game stretch (vs. Ohio State, @ Iowa) to finish out the year and will hopefully do enough to make its first NCAA Tournament in program history. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Northwestern “in” the tournament, but the hopes of the Wildcats and their fans rest on their performance in those final two games.
  4. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Ohio State was the toast of the Big Ten and many pundits were asking “who can beat the Buckeyes?”  Michigan State answered that question in Columbus, then Michigan did it in Ann Arbor, and now Wisconsin has stolen a 63-60 victory in Value City Arena.  Instead of worrying about a conference championship, now OSU has to be concerned about their seeding in the Big Ten Tournament and where they may end up in the NCAA Tournament as well.  All is not well for the scarlet and gray as they try to right their ship before postseason play begins.
  5. And Bruce Weber thought HE had it bad.  Frustrated Nebraska basketball booster Neal Hawks decided to vent his grievances regarding the program in a full-page advertisement in The World Herald sports section.  He also took some time to support beleaguered head coach Doc Sadler.  It hasn’t been a very fun season for Husker fans, but plenty of things need to be addressed before the program can move forward.  Remedies such as spending more money and finding more support for the program from the fan base have been suggested.  There is simply no easy transition when you enter one of (if not the) toughest conferences in college basketball.
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Big Ten Game On: 02.25.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 25th, 2012

Six games this weekend in the Big Ten, and tonight features two of the conference leaders.  Let’s get to it.

Purdue @ #11 Michigan, 6 PM, BTN

Michigan's Senior Night against Purdue will be a big game for Zach Novak and Stu Douglass (US Presswire)

  • The Boilermakers need a win over a ranked opponent really bad.  Like, really, REALLY bad.  That’s because Purdue is 1-5 against teams in the RPI Top 25 and 4-7 against the Top 50.  A win would obviously help those stats out, and possibly put an end to the bubble talk surrounding the Boilermakers’ chances for an invite to the NCAA Tournament.  Robbie Hummel is doing his part, shooting 50% from the field and averaging 24.8 PPG over his last four contests. He also dropped a stat line of 16 points, five boards, and six assists the last time these two teams met, and will be expected to lead again.  Matt Painter will have to devise a plan to slow down the smoking-hot Wolverines, who have won five of their last six and have yet to lose at home this season.  It will be an emotional Senior Night in Ann Arbor, as fan favorites Zach Novak and Stu Douglass will be honored.  Douglass hasn’t missed a game in his Michigan career, while Novak was named the program’s first Academic All-American since 1984.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Whatever they did, it worked. The Detroit News’ Rod Beard takes you inside Michigan‘s intense preparation for Northwestern‘s unique style of play ahead of the Wolverines’ overtime win in Evanston on Tuesday night, helping to keep Michigan on pace in the conference standings. It details coaches’ late hours, the film review, and how the Wolverines planned to attack Northwestern leading scorer John Shurna. The senior finished with just 14 points, well below his average, and Michigan held him in check during the late stages Tuesday night. Looks like all that prep paid off.
  2. Speaking of Shurna, he may not have been on his game on Tuesday night, but the Chicago Tribune‘s David Haugh points out that there’s a lot more to Shurna than just putting the ball in the hoop. The Wildcats senior and Northwestern all-time career scoring leader re-reads the Harry Potter books and is a big believer in humanitarian efforts, for starters. It’s safe to say he’s got a pretty full resume.
  3. It seems Tubby Smith is going to keep tinkering with his Minnesota lineup until he sees something he really likes. With the Golden Gophers on the bubble and hosting Michigan State on Wednesday night, it’s a prime opportunity for Minnesota to make a statement. It looks like that means another lineup change. Amelia Rayno from the Star Tribune writes that fans are likely to see the ninth different starting lineup on Wednesday. Smith didn’t say who the new five would be, but Rayno has good insight into who may be coming and who may be going.
  4. The list of things that may have Bruce Weber in scalding-hot water after Illinois wraps up this disappointing season is a long one. But Ken Thompson of the Lafayette Journal-Courier says straying from the principles of his mentor was part of Weber’s downfall. Thompson writes that Weber — who spent 18 years under Gene Keady at Purdue — never instilled the mixture of toughness and affection that Keady had with his Boilermakers team, and it cost him at Illinois.
  5. As for Purdue nowadays, it’s going to have to change with the departure of Kelsey Barlow. The Boilermakers are trying to reach the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season, but their task is tougher since coach Matt Painter kicked Barlow off the team last week. Painter said it depends on the match-ups, but you can expect to see Lewis Jackson, Terone Johnson, Ryne Smith, and D.J. Byrd all step up and expand their roles. With four games remaining on the Big Ten regular season schedule and the Big Ten Tournament ahead, those players have the opportunity to make the most of their enhanced roles.
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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Boiling Over: Give credit to Matt Painter for making a difficult decision in the stretch run of a season. Painter kicked Kelsey Barlow off the team and suspended D.J. Byrd for the Michigan State game for a “violation of team rules.” They’ll miss Barlow’s experience and slashing ability, but sometimes this kind of incident can galvanize a team.
  • Lincoln > Land of Lincoln: Any doubts about whether Illinois was still playing for embattled head coach Bruce Weber were answered when Nebraska used a 52-12 run to bury the Illini, 80-57, on Sunday. Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard combined for 11 total points. You just can’t let the worst offensive team in the Big Ten put up 80 on you. Illinois has now lost eight of its last nine games and Weber seems resigned to his likely fate (see video below).
  • Shurna Can Score: Congrats to John Shurna, a nice kid and a fantastic (if unorthodox) scorer who is now the all-time leading scorer in Northwestern history. His deep three-pointer midway through the second half against Minnesota gave him 18 points to surpass Billy McKinney (1,900 points).  More importantly to Shurna, the Wildcats picked up a win to stay in the hunt for first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

The Spartans And Buckeyes Have Company At The Top Of The Standings. (AP/Carlos Osorio)

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) – Not since Tim Duncan in 1997-98 has a player averaged more than 15 points per game, 10 rebounds a game and three assists per game. But Draymond Green has done just that, and he continued to show his versatility on Sunday at Purdue with a 20-point, 10 rebound and seven-assist performance to lead the Spartans to a road win. He has to be the Big Ten POY if MSU wins the conference.
  2. Ohio State (22-5, 10-4) – William Buford has had big games for Ohio State this season, but his struggles late in the regular season may cost Ohio State a Big Ten crown. He shot a combined 5-for-24 in the Buckeyes’ losses to Michigan State and Michigan, and just hasn’t shown the big game leadership that you would expect out of a senior. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Game On: 02.21.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 21st, 2012

It’s a big night for the second place teams in the Big Ten as both Ohio State and Michigan look to keep pace with conference leader Michigan State.  It’s an equally big night for two teams that are desperately trying to make their way into the NCAA tournament as well.  Game On!!!

Illinois at #8 Ohio State, 7 PM, ESPN/ESPN3

Ohio State will be looking for revenge against Illinois at home. (Neal C. Lauron/Columbus Dispatch/MCT)

  • The Buckeyes are smarting after recent losses to MSU and Michigan, and now is the time to gather themselves and bounce back.  The Big Ten Conference title is still very much within their grasp if they can get back on the winning track en route to a showdown against the Spartans in East Lansing on March 4.  However, they must figure out a way to use the talents of Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, and William Buford properly.  There is no question that OSU possesses plenty of talent, but mentally the Buckeyes need to find themselves.  They were out-toughed by Michigan State and made too many mistakes against Michigan.  Illinois is a team prone to making mistakes, and the Buckeyes need to take advantage.  It won’t be easy, though, because if Bruce Weber has any inclinations on saving his job, he must finish the season strong and make the NCAA Tournament, and that includes beating Ohio State.  The Illini have already done it once this season back on January 10, and even thought they’ve struggled mightily since then (1-8 in the following nine games), would it be ridiculous to suggest that Illinois is the team with the least pressure to win?  Not much is expected of Brandon Paul and his crew, and they have to have confidence that they can upset a team that they’ve beaten once before just a little more than a month ago.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.21.12

Posted by bmulvihill on February 21st, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Lots of important conference games on the docket this evening. As we move into the final two weeks of the regular season in college hoops, there are several conference titles up for grabs.  It should be a fantastic closing to the season before we head into the postseason.

Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe & The Rest Of The Tigers Look To Avenge Their Earlier Loss

Kansas State at #3 Missouri – 7:00PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • Along with Texas, Kansas State sits squarely on the bubble in the Big 12. A road win at Missouri would do wonders for their tourney chances. Frank Martin’s team is coming off a nice win against Baylor and can feel some comfort in the fact they have beaten the Tigers once already this season. They need to take advantage of their size on the offensive glass as they in did the previous match-up with Mizzou. Additionally, keep a close eye on Kansas State’s ability to get to the free throw line as the Wildcats rely heavily on free throws. Also, watch Rodney McGruder’s shooting from deep. Missouri is allowing teams to shoot 39.7% from three in conference play. McGruder is Kansas State’s best three-point shooter and can have a huge impact in a close game.
  • Missouri is on a collision course with Kansas next Saturday in Lawrence. In what could be the last regular season “Boarder Wars”, the game looms large for the Tigers. In most cases, this would be a classic trap game. However, with a loss earlier in the season to Kansas State, don’t expect Missouri to look past the Wildcats. The Tigers are undefeated at home, have won seven in a row, and operate the most efficient offense in the entire country. They look ready for a deep run in the tourney. Keep a close eye on how Ricardo Ratliffe plays against the Kansas State size. He had zero impact in the last game and needs a better showing for Missouri to win tonight.
  • This game comes down to defense. Kansas State held the Tigers to their worst shooting performance of the season in their previous match-up. If they can do the same in this one, they have a chance to pull the big upset. If Missouri can box out on the defensive end and create turnovers, they can avenge their previous loss to the Wildcats.
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Big Ten Game On: 02.11.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 11th, 2012

It was a quiet Friday night in the Big Ten (because, you know, there were no games), but the action certainly picks up on the court today as two of the top teams in the league face off.  Also, on Sunday we have some schools desperate for a win on the road against opponents who need a victory to keep pace within the conference.  It all bodes for a very interesting Big Ten weekend.

Nebraska at Penn State, 1 pm ET Saturday

  • Though these two teams currently sport the bottom two records in the league, don’t think for a second that this game doesn’t mean something. Nebraska desperately needs to get on the right track in their first season in the Big Ten, and a road win at Penn State would help get things moving in that direction. Meanwhile, Penn State has lost five straight and eight out of their last nine; and in no way do they want that streak to continue. It helps that the Nittany Lions will have the best player on the court in guard Tim Fraizer.

#12 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State, 6 pm ET Saturday

  • This is the biggest marquee game for the league so far this season and not just because it is between two teams that are within a game of each other at the top of the standings. Both teams have good size, tremendous guard play, and it will be strength-vs-strength when the Spartans and Buckeyes do battle on national television (ESPN). In the yesterday’s Big Ten Morning Five there was a link to an article talking about the headache Big Ten coaches have had in trying to figure out how to properly defend Jared Sullinger. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo probably is the best equipped to deal with the Buckeye big man, as beefy Derrick Nix and long-armed Adreian Payne can be used to slow Sullinger down. Draymond Green may also take his turn on Sullinger, but his foremost job will be to continue his Big Ten-best 10.6 RPG along with his 15 PPG. Green’s leadership will also be key for this road test as sophomore guard Keith Appling and freshman forward Branden Dawson will be the other Spartans expected to score. Look for Ohio State guard William Buford to try and loosen things up for Sullinger early on as the senior knows how important a win and two-game cushion over Michigan State would be.

Containing Jared Sullinger will be the top priority for Michign State. (Greg Shamus/Getty)

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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, various city river walks and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was:

  • Halfway Home: As of this week, the regular season conference schedule is officially more than halfway done. And – with apologies to Dennis Green– teams are pretty much who we thought they were at the beginning of the season. Ohio State is the class of the conference; Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana are solid NCAA Tournament teams; Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern are fighting for seeding while Iowa, Nebraska, and Penn State pick up the rear. Of course, there have been some upsets and many compelling games, but now that the dust is starting to settle, the cream of the crop has risen to the top.
  • Super Shurna: Leave it to a savvy veteran to catch fire at just the right time. With Northwestern’s hopes of making its first NCAA Tournament fading fast, John Shurna won co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors after he shot a blistering 71% from the field and averaged 26 points, four rebounds, and two steals to lead the injury-depleted Wildcats to a home win over Nebraska and a road victory over Illinois. Shurna is up there with Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor as the most valuable players to their respective teams.
  • Close Calls: Illinois may be struggling at the moment, but they aren’t getting blown out. Each of the Illini’s last six games has been decided by five points or less. Unfortunately for the Orange Crush, they are just 2-4 in those games. Now they get to go on the road for four of their next five, starting with a doozy of a week with games at Indiana and at Michigan.

Will Draymond Green And The Spartans Snap Ohio State's Impressive Winning Streak In Columbus Saturday? (Al Goldis/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (21-3, 9-2) – With the amount of scoring options Thad Matta has, it’s really just a matter of if Ohio State wants to defend you. They didn’t do that against Indiana or Brandon Paul (though he was just on fire that day), and sure enough, they lost both games. Purdue gave the Scarlet-and-Gray all they could handle before OSU escaped with an 84-81 win. Buckeyes face an interesting test when Michigan State comes calling to Columbus on Saturday. A win would put them in a comfortable position to win the regular season crown.
  2. Michigan State (18-5, 7-3) – All of East Lansing waited with baited breath to learn the results of Draymond Green’s MRI. After Green left the game with a minor knee injury, Michigan State struggled mightily in a 42-41 upset loss. They bounced back nicely against their in-state rivals, and sure enough, Green led them with 14 points and 16 boards. As good a season as State has had, it could be even better: Two of the three conference losses have been by a single point on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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Taking a Look At Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament Case

Posted by jnowak on February 7th, 2012

Ah, life on the bubble. One day things look good, and the next they look bleak. Today, things are looking up for Northwestern as Bill Carmody tries to lead the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. But how long can things look rosy, and how much wiggle room to they have? Potentially not long. And not much.

John Shurna has a great chance to lead Northwestern to its first-ever NCAA Tournament. (Anthony Gruppuso / US Presswire)

To start with, the Wildcats already have the 10th-best strength of schedule in the country, and it should stay in that range through the end of the season. They also have a strong RPI of #37, and are certainly the beneficiaries of a first-rate Big Ten this year (six of the top 10 schools for strength of schedule are from the conference). Also, the Wildcats really don’t have a terrible loss. Every team they’ve lost to — Baylor, Creighton, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue — has a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern’s worst defeat is probably a 75-52 loss at Minnesota, one of their three road losses by 20 or more points.

As for their road ahead in order to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, the Wildcats must win three of their last four at home, beating Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan, and losing just to Ohio State. As for road games, they need to beat Penn State and Iowa but can afford losses at Purdue and Indiana. If things go that way, the Wildcats will be 19-11 overall and 9-9 in the conference with wins over Michigan State, Michigan and at Illinois. Best-case scenario, Northwestern could end up 20-12 overall (9-9 Big Ten) with a Big Ten Tournament win to help pad the resume, without a single disastrous loss to an RPI Top 100 team.

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